Monday, 15 August 2011

PD and Comedy

Last week I read about this upcoming research piece on the Beijing Olympics in American TV Comedy, and what it means for China/PD issues:

I'm really looking forward to seeing the full report, as political comedy is one of my favourite things in the world. I instantly knew the two shows they were talking about--South Park's episode "The China Problem" and The Daily Show. I thought South Park was particularly brilliant--Cartman was terrified by the opening ceremony, telling his friends "They outnumber us like a million to one!" Cartman is the outlandish and prejudiced foil to the voices of reason, Stan & Kyle (and presumably the rational audience members, as well?). His fear of China is a satire of very real views held by some Americans, and South Park writers put those words in Cartman's mouth to show how ridiculous the fear is. Of course, given America's newly downgraded credit rating and apparently imminent "decline & fall", maybe I need to watch that episode again...

I thought of another example of the Beijing Olympics in U.S. comedy. It's just one line, not significant enough to include in the paper, but still very funny:

I absolutely loved Michael Sheen as Wesley on 30 Rock, and this line was brilliant. I was just thinking about it recently amid all of the rioting. "We don't have that sort of control over our people..."

And funnily enough, China was thinking the same thing during the London riots!
China's reporting of the London rioting showed that they doubt London is up for the security challenges of hosting the Olympic games.

In terms of PD, the Olympics are obviously a good thing. They raise your nation's profile and give you a chance to show off the positive aspects of your culture to the world during the opening & closing ceremonies. Watching the last Winter Olympics, I was really quite impressed with Canada's ceremonies--the emphasis on First Nations, the Canadian celebrities (Neil Young? How did I not know that?), Mounties and dancing lumberjacks, etc. (The giant inflatable beavers were a bit over the top, though). I grew up about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, and I had no idea Canada had that much going on.
Hosting the Olympics is a giant nation-branding, PR exercise (with an athletic competition taking place on the side). Beijing did the same thing before Vancouver did it, and London will do the same thing again...Can't wait to see which aspects of British culture they choose to highlight!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Upgrade Update

This afternoon I finally submitted my final draft of the upgrade document. It's out of my hands now...
The next step is the viva, where I'll be questioned about my research by 2 members of staff (which two, I'm not sure at this point...). I'm not actually too nervous about the viva. Thanks to having done my MA here, I've spoken with nearly every member of staff before (if not about my research, then at least socially), so at least I won't be facing strangers. What's more, I actually like talking about my research. I think it's pretty interesting stuff--that's why I decided to spend 3 years of my life reading and writing about it.
A few of my first-year colleagues have already done their upgrades, and two of them passed with no corrections, which is really impressive and slightly intimidating. I know you can't compare your PhD process with others, but it's so easy to do (especially in a shared office...).

In other news, we've made a lot of progress on organising the Propaganda conference in memory of Phil Taylor this December. It's really shaping up and there's been a lot of interest and enthusiasm. Prof. Rawnsley has asked some of us to contribute to the student perspective portion, reflecting on Phil's impact on our work/life. While I'm really pleased & proud to be able to contribute, it's more than a little intimidating. I never wrote anything for Phil's tributes website. Every time I started to draft something, I'd start crying and just couldn't do it. I didn't know what to say. How can you sum up a person's impact on your life without resorting to cliches? And I knew that anything I had to say would seem insignificant compared to the contributions of people who knew him better & longer than I had. I only met him when I came to Leeds for the MA in 2008, so I only knew him for 2 years before he passed away. When I looked over my module options the summer before the MA, I remember thinking that his courses sounded really interesting--I signed up for both of them and just hoped that I would like the professor, because I'd be with him all year.
When I was in his classes, I instantly liked him--his style, his take on the subjects, his sense of humor. But I sat quietly taking notes and never once asked a question (that's the kind of student I am...shy & absorbent!). The first time I actually said more than a dozen words to him was when I visited his office to discuss the possibility of a PhD. He was encouraging but realistic, telling me that the PhD would be a lonely process, and very expensive, so only do it for the right reasons. I told him that I wanted to be an academic and he said that was the right answer. We talked about teaching--we had both started out Uni intending to teach secondary school. We talked about Vanderbilt, where I first attended Uni (briefly) and where he'd spent time in the 80's as a Visiting Professor. We talked about Blair and Bush, Obama, the Special Relationship, British politics, public diplomacy, Richard Curtis films, etc. We threw around ideas about research topics and I gained insight into the workplace politics of academia. Like many other students have noticed, our conversations were all over the place and they were endlessly fascinating. He was the kind of professor you wanted to have a pint with (and I didn't even know you could drink in front of your professors until I came to England). He was brilliant, of course, but most of all he was just a really nice guy to spend time with.
There have been so many times in the past few months when I wished I could talk with him--not just about my research, but about everything--current events, politics, my personal life. It's been extremely hard to work on this PhD that we started on together without his continued guidance and input. When Phil said it would be a lonely process, he didn't mean it would be like this.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Revisiting theory...

I've worked out why I don't like theory.
It makes me feel stupid.

My supervisor suggested I look at Bourdieu's work on reproduction of elites through education, and I naively went down to the library, checked out 3 of his books and went to Starbucks for a bit of reading. When I'd settled in with my coffee, I opened up "Reproduction: In Education, Society and Culture" and found this:

"Finally, because his reaction against artificialist conceptions of the social order leads Durkheim to emphasize the externality of constraint, whereas Marx, concerned to revel the relations of violence underlying the ideologies of legitimacy, tends in his analysis of the effects of the dominant ideology to minimize the real efficacy of the symbolic strengthening of power relations (rapports de force) that is implied in the recognition by the dominated of the legitimacy of domination, Weber is opposed to both Durkheim and Marx in that he is the only one who explicitly takes as his object the specific contribution that representations of legitimacy make to the exercise and perpetuation of power, even if, confined within a psycho-sociological conception of those representations, he cannot, as Marx does, inquire into the functions fulfilled in social relations by misrecognition (meconnaissance) of the objective truth of those relations as power relations." (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 4-5)

That's one sentence.

And it's just the introduction. It gets worse, when he goes into the "insofar" statements...

"Insofar as it is symbolic violence, pedagogic action can produce its own specifically symbolic effect only when provided with the social conditions for imposition and inculcation, i.e. the power relations that are not implied in a formal definition of communication."

What have I gotten myself into?

To be fair, only the first 68 pages are like this. The rest of the book has data charts and slightly more accessible language...

But overall, this foray into Bourdieu is a serious blow to my confidence...
"Are you sure you want to be an academic?"